Who would have thought Brian Flynn would return to the Wrexham bench (or his seat in the directors’ box, I suppose!) Being a caretaker manager is a complicated affair. Is he just keeping the seat warm for the next incumbent, or will he try something different?
It’s hard, in a way, to define what “something different” is at the moment as we’ve used four distinct formations in the last three matches as we desperately scrambled around for a solution. However, Flynn has something up his sleeve that we definitely haven’t tried.
He achieved promotion, and the victory over Arsenal, with a 4-4-2. However, the departure of Gary Bennett necessitated a re-think, and he came up with a formation he’s enjoyed using ever since. Essentially a lop-sided 4-3-3, one of the wide forwards tucks into the middle to make a front two, while the other stays out wide.
The 1997 line-up which got to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup is perhaps the most obvious iteration of this shape. Martyn Chalk and Craig Skinner competed for the role of out-and-out winger, while Steve Watkin partnered Karl Connolly in the middle. A big gap on the left allowed Phil Hardy to push forwards in support of Connolly, but placed massive responsibility on the left-sided midfielder, who had to cover a lot of ground in that part of the pitch. Kevin Russell was often Flynn’s favoured option in that position.
When Flynn first arrived at the club for his second spell, we saw a new version of this formation come into play. As we all know, Hughes inherited a side which was struggling for goals and often found himself chasing games in the second half. His response was to take big risks, and at Gateshead he used Flynn’s lop-sided 4-3-3 for much of the second half to fight back and earn a point.
We saw occasion variations of that shape in the run-in last season, but their frequency diminished and this season it hasn’t appeared. Yet Flynn has the raw materials to try it out.
Bobby Grant fits the Karl Connolly role well, flitting between attack and the wing, and he combined well with Jason Oswell when they ended the Aldershot game as a front two. If we were to faithfully reproduce the Flynn formula, Ben Tollitt would be the out-and-out winger, although Mark Harris would also be able to fill any of the attacking positions.
Although I like Akil Wright in the holding position, I’d use him box-to-box in this formation, as Bryan Hughes or Waynne Phillips were in the 1990s. Luke Summerfield would be the deep-lying playmaker, able to step up into midfield and drive things forwards as Peter Ward and Dave Brammer did. Luke Young’s energy and speed would allow him to do the unwanted Kevin Russell role and cover the flank. Sorry mate!
Using Tollitt on the left would leave the right back exposed, which is a shame as James Jennings would enjoy the marauding solo role up and down the left. However, perhaps it makes more sense to have Mark Carrington doing that role on the right. Phil Hardy linked well with Karl Connolly and used the space he created, but he was never a left back who went on the charge, as his scoring record illustrates! His defensive solidity meant leaving him exposed wasn’t such a big risk, and his tidy passing meant he could find Connolly. Carrington ticks those boxes.
I’m not saying Brian Flynn is going to do this: in fact, I think he won’t. But don’t be shocked if we see something a little different. People often assume that when a coach replaces their manager, they’ll replicate the same tactics, but I’d argue the opposite is usually true. You often see changes which suggest a coach was frustrated not to be able to apply his own ideas to the team.
I strongly suspect that Carl Darlington was the greater influence over Hughes’ approach than Flynn: he was Darlington’s student and iterations of a narrow shape have been a regular feature of the Darlington era. Flynn might be about to surprise us.